Drug Abuse and Treatment in the Military

Turning to alcohol and drug use has historically been a part of military culture. It has been a concern in the US military dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War when a doctors of the time documented the effects of alcohol on the shellshocked troops. In the Civil War, opium – prescribed to relieve pain from wounds and disease – became a serious problem known as the “soldier’s disease,” but in reality was outright addiction. Members of the armed services have always used drugs and alcohol to relieve stress, to alleviate boredom and feel like a part of the brotherhood of the military. Unfortunately, carrying an addiction back to civilian life is common. Therefore, understanding drug abuse and treatment in the military is a critical first step in preventing the destruction of young men and women that have served our country.

A Public Health Crisis

A recent report from the Institute of Medicine from a study requested by the defense department suggests substance use and abuse among soldiers needs to be addressed. It also indicates that the way the Pentagon is dealing with it is obsolete.

  • Around a fifth of active-service duty members reported engaging in heavy drinking behavior. Heavy drinking was defined as drinking five or more alcoholic beverages a day as part of a regular routine.
  • Binge drinking increase from 35% to 47% in 2008. This was defined having five or more drinks in one sitting for men and four or more for women. However, this behavior occurred one or twice a month as opposed to weekly.
  • Prescription drug abuse appears to be rising faster in the military than among civilians. In fact, it might be more common than the use of illegal drugs like pot or cocaine. The report showed that two percent of active duty personnel reported misusing prescription drugs in 2002 and eleven percent reported it in 2008.

Treatment Approach

One of the other findings of the report was that the military approach to dealing with the addictions of its members might not be on par to civilian approaches. For example, modern substance abuse treatments usually involve medications. They ease the pain of withdrawal, are FDA approved and effective. However, the military can be reluctant to use them.

Another issue is training. The US Navy uses counselor training materials based on guidelines written in 1984. These materials, if enhanced, could better help the counselors treat the troops who have problems with substance abuse. Another way training materials could be updated is to involve prevention and treatment efforts more in primary health care. And, to mitigate the stigma soldiers can feel when receiving help, the military could do more to maintain the confidentiality about any issues for those who do seek help, the report suggested.

However, if you have been in the military or are a family member of someone in the military and are experiencing substance abuse issues, you can get the help you need right now, completely confidentially. Call the number at the top of your screen for an immediate, free consultation now. We can help you regardless of where you are, what time it is or how far your problem has progressed…all you have to do is pick up the phone.

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